APPS THAT ASSIST VETERANS
LATEST TECHNOLOGY CAN AID VETERANS IN OBTAINING MENTAL HEALTH CARE
August 22, 2016
This article first appeared in the August 2016 issue of the VFW magazine.
There’s a new way for veterans to access health care. Mobile apps—programs designed for devices such as smartphones and tablets—can help vets cope with ailments such as PTSD, TBI and general anxiety.
Experts say this new frontier will require regulation and careful oversight. But the mental health field may be one area where veterans can use apps in addition to traditional health care to improve their quality of life. Today, both VA and other organizations are working to help create access to care—with the veteran in mind.
According to “Meeting the Behavioral Health Needs of Veterans,” a study by the National Council for Behavioral Health, 30%, or nearly 730,000, of the 2.4 million active-duty and reserve military personnel who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan will have a mental health condition requiring treatment.
FOUR APPS IN ACTION
The VA Office of Connected Health already has several apps geared toward mental health. Neil Evans, a primary care internist and acting chief of the office, said the apps are a way to add value to existing mental health treatment. This, in turn, increases the value of a patient’s health care.
“These apps are all designed to be used along with existing therapy,” he said. “If you can augment the communication with their provider, and take those lessons and apply them in their daily life, that’s going to improve their experience.”
The apps cover a range of mental health concerns—VA’s flagship app PTSD Coach was the first. Released in 2011, PTSD Coach is available in 95 countries and has been downloaded more than 300,000 times.
But it’s not just for PTSD, said clinical psychologist Julia Hoffman, national director for mobile health at VA’s Mental Health Services. PTSD Coach was born out of the idea that patients wanted something to practice outside of therapy. So they talked with experts, clinicians and patients and developed an app to help patients tolerate stress in their everyday lives.
“That is something anyone can identify with, not just people with PTSD,” Hoffman said. “Anybody with emotion dysregulation, anger, irritability [and/or] anxiety can benefit from this tool.”
Developing PTSD Coach and the other apps for mental health constitute an incredible opportunity to dismiss the stigma that keeps some veterans from getting the care they need, she said.
Three other apps are very similar in nature: PE Coach, ACT Coach and CPT Coach are more specific and designed to work with the type of therapy a patient is already receiving.
The PE Coach app is for veterans, troops and others to use in Prolonged Exposure (PE) therapy for PTSD with a behavioral health professional, according to VA. As an aid for therapists during PE sessions, the app provides tools for patients to process their traumatic experiences and reduce anxiety and fear.
“When people participate in it as prescribed, it really works,” Hoffman said. “However, it’s not without a drawback: it asks a lot of the patient and the therapist. It’s very difficult work.”
One of the key features is that patients are asked to go through—in extreme detail—what their events were. The app has the capability to audio record PE therapy sessions directly onto the patient’s mobile device. This is used as homework, where the patient can listen back. And with the portability of a mobile device, the patient can now do this and other homework anywhere—and do it discretely.
“Instead of carrying a big binder that says ‘PTSD’ to the whole world, [the patient] looks just like every other person who is also sitting there, looking at his phone,” Hoffman said.
All of the apps are designed to create real, long-term clinical improvement so veterans can go on with the rest of their lives, Hoffman said. It is not intended to undermine or reinvent any of the highly successful interventions.
PE Coach also can track symptoms over time to evaluate treatment progress and outcomes. Features like that decrease the time the patient spends in the therapy room—when that time would be better spent engaged with the behavioral health expert, Hoffman said.
ACT Coach is another VA app. This one is designed for users who are in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Features include exercises to practice the ACT core concepts, as well as a way to log and track useful coping strategies.
According to VA, CPT (Cognitive Processing Therapy) has been shown to be one of the most effective treatments for PTSD for both civilian and military-related traumas—VA also has an app for that.
Like ACT Coach, CPT Coach also works in conjunction with a mental health care provider for users undergoing that particular kind of therapy. It contains support material for a complete course of CPT to help patients manage their treatment. This includes in-between session assignments, readings, PTSD symptom monitoring and mobile versions of CPT worksheets.
ON THE WEB: GIVE AN HOUR
Barbara Van Dahlen is a clinical psychologist and president of Give an Hour, a non-profit that connects volunteers from the medical community with military personnel and their families. Medical providers offer their services for free, giving their time.
Van Dahlen came up with the concept of connecting those in need with providers in 2004. She heard about vets coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and dealing with the psychological consequences of war. She thought of Craig’s List, the online classified site connecting those seeking goods and services. So she asked herself why not take the same approach to mental health care?
“We live in this virtual space to begin with,” she said, adding that there’s no overhead required for facilities—the providers use their already existing office space. Mental health care providers donate their time virtually, and users can receive care for free.
Today, the group has more than 7,000 providers signed up. Veterans, family members and even non-married partners can participate for free. “There’s no money changing hands,” Van Dahlen said.
But with advancements in technology comes a need to regulate this new frontier. “There are no guidelines yet,” Van Dahlen said about the apps. She added that it’s important to remember to treat this companion care in a responsible, healthy and appropriate way.
“When people are vulnerable and hurting, we need to be really careful,” she said. “There’s tremendous potential here, but it’s kind of the wild, wild West.” Currently, Van Dahlen, VA and other industry leaders are working to help create guidelines.
Health care apps may not be a solution for everyone, Evans said. But it is a key strategy for any health care system.
“Having mobile tools for patients in general to better engage in their own health care and better understand and manage their health care is going to be a critical offering of any health care system as we move forward in the next couple of years,” he explained.
BACK TO BASICS
No matter whether it’s online or on an app, technology is not a replacement for getting real-life assistance from a health care provider.
“These technologies are not intended to replace proper mental health care with a trained professional,” Hoffman said. “What they are meant to do is to support ongoing care, including care that’s received from a mental health professional or primary care clinics, where many people actually seek mental health care options.”
Evans said if you’re interested in how an app can help, start the conversation with your health care provider. “Health care is all about a relationship and open communication, so most providers are very open to a discussion on how to find the tools and approach to help their patient thrive,” he said. “Often times the provider is willing to try something new if the patient is excited about it and motivated to use it to improve his or her health.”
Whether they are military or civilian, people should be mindful of others’ and their own mental health. “You might want to reach out, check on them, talk to them,” Van Dahlen said. “If you had a gash, you wouldn’t walk around with it oozing. There are things you can do to help that heal.”
After seeking professional help, there are many additional methods, such as yoga or meditation that can aid. “Then you’re on your way to finding out what’s right for you,” Van Dahlen points out. “One size doesn’t fit all. Take advantage of the resources available to you. We all have the potential to recover.”
NEW ADJUTANT AND QUARTERMASTER GENERALS NAMED AT VFW NATIONAL CONVENTION
ANDERSON’S ELECTION MAKES HER THE FIRST FEMALE VETERAN TO HOLD THE POSITION
July 28, 2016
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Yesterday, at the conclusion of the 117th Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States National Convention, in Charlotte, N.C., Robert E. Wallace was appointed the organization’s new adjutant general, and Debra Anderson its new quartermaster general.
Anderson’s election to the position makes her the first female veteran to hold the position in the organization’s 117-year history. She also joins new VFW National Commander Brian Duffy to be the first Operation Desert Storm veterans to be elected to their respective positions.
Bob Wallace is also the executive director of the VFW Washington Office, a position he’s held since 2001, and is responsible for the day-to-day operations of VFW activities in our nation’s capital. He served as the deputy executive director of the VFW Washington Office from 1996-2001.
After a successful 24-year career in banking in his home state of New Jersey, Wallace joined the administration of former New Jersey Gov. Thomas H. Kean as deputy commissioner/administrator of veterans affairs. Immediately prior to joining the VFW staff, he served as executive director of the New Jersey State Employment and Training Commission. He has also served on a number of state and national committees to improve the quality of life of America’s veterans, military personnel and their families.
Wallace served as a lance corporal with the 1st Battalion, 1st Marines, 1st Marine Division, in Vietnam from November 1967 to June 1968. He is a veteran of the Battle of Hue during the 1968 Tet Offensive, and received three Purple Heart medals for wounds sustained in Vietnam.
He joined the VFW while in Vietnam. In 1979, Wallace was the recipient of the VFW’s Young Veteran of the Year award from both the national organization and the VFW Department of New Jersey. Wallace was the first Vietnam veteran, as well as the youngest veteran, to command the Department of New Jersey from 1980-81. He has served on a variety of state and national VFW committees, to include Legislative, Security, Budget and Finance. He also served on the National Council of Administration.
Wallace is a past VFW commander-in-chief, having served from August 1991 to August 1992. During his term of office, he focused on quality VA health care for veterans and worked for the fullest possible accounting of American Prisoners of War and Missing in Action from the Vietnam War. He continues to travel to Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia to meet with Southeast Asian leaders and to the Russian Federation to help resolve the POW/MIA issue.
He earned a Bachelor of Science degree from Rutgers University and a master’s degree in business administration from Fairleigh Dickinson University. He is also a graduate of the School for Bank Administration at the University of Wisconsin. Bob is a Life member of VFW Post 9503 in Bayville, New Jersey.
Anderson held appointed positions as assistant quartermaster general and director of Human Resources and Investment Coordinator prior to her election to quartermaster general.
She attended the University of Missouri-Columbia on an ROTC scholarship, where she majored in economics. In May 1980 upon graduation, she was commissioned in the Army as an AG (Human Resources) Second Lieutenant. Her military assignments included Nuremberg/Furth, Germany; Fort Harrison, Ind.; Fort Riley, Kan.; Fort Leavenworth, Kan.; and Fort McPherson, Ga. She deployed as part of the division headquarters with the 1st Infantry Division during Desert Storm in December 1990. During her 13 years of service, Anderson was awarded the Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal (2), and the Army Commendation Medal (4), among many others. Anderson earned a master’s degree of science in systems management from the University of Southern California in 1989, and is a graduate of the Army’s Combined Arms Services Staff School (CAS3) and Command and General Staff College (CGSC).
Anderson left the Army in 1993 and held a variety of management positions in business from 1993-2007. She joined VFW Post 7356 in Parkville, Mo., in 2006 where she maintains her Legacy Life membership, and has held the positions of Voice of Democracy chair, junior vice commander, senior vice commander, All-American Post commander, trustee and District adjutant. She is also a life member of the VFW Auxiliary and VFW National Home.
Also elected at the convention were Commander-in-Chief Brian Duffy, Senior Vice Commander-in-Chief Keith E. Harman and Junior Vice Commander-in-Chief Vincent “B.J.” Lawrence.
117TH VFW NATIONAL CONVENTION ROLLS INTO CHARLOTTE
PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES TO SPEAK MONDAY, TUESDAY
July 21, 2016
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Up to12,000 members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States and its Auxiliary are rolling into the Tar Heel State this weekend to elect new leadership and to approve resolutions that will guide the national organization’s advocacy efforts on Capitol Hill, and its veteran and military support programs across the country. The 117th VFW National Convention begins Saturday at the Charlotte Convention Center in Charlotte, N.C. The event is closed to the public.
“We are very fortunate to have both presidential candidates speaking to us next week,” said VFW National Commander John A. Biedrzycki Jr. “It continues a longstanding VFW tradition to provide an opportunity for those seeking the nation’s highest office to address the nation’s largest and oldest major war veterans’ organization, which is especially important during a time of war and instability abroad, as well as internal challenges at home,” he said.
“What we hope to hear from both candidates is how they will fight our enemies while keeping America safe through strong national defense and homeland security programs,” he said. “We also want to know how they will create, enhance and protect veteran and military health care programs and quality of life initiatives, such as educational benefits, job training and employment programs, as well as hear a renewed commitment to return our fallen from their battlefields.”
The 12,000 VFW and Auxiliary delegates will represent the organization’s total membership of nearly 1.7 million at the weeklong convention. Their mission will be to approve new national priorities to guide the VFW as it lobbies Congress on issues important to the nation’s veterans, service members and their families. Convention delegates will also elect a new VFW national commander, Brian J. Duffy of Louisville, Ky., as well as recognize prominent individuals and organizations for their support of veterans and military personnel.
National awards to be presented at the VFW’s 117th National Convention include:
— VFW Armed Forces Award to U.S. Army Special Forces Command (Airborne);
— VFW Americanism Award to artist Scott LoBaido;
— VFW Hall of Fame Award to comedian, actor and retired Marine Corps Lt. Col. Rob Riggle;
— VFW National Teacher Awards to Jessica Mosley, Park Intermediate School, Weiser, Idaho; Donna Kregelka, Chippewa Middle School, Okemos, Mich.; and William Ellery, Carmel High School, Carmel, Ind.;
— VFW Voice of Democracy $30,000 scholarship winner Grayson Campbell;
— And introduce the 2016 VFW Buddy Poppy Child, 12-year-old Jaeden Davis from the VFW National Home for Children.
Invited guest speakers include Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Bob McDonald, Undersecretary for Health Dr. David Shulkin, Acting Undersecretary for Benefits Thomas Murphy, Selective Service System Director Lawrence Romo, Charlotte Mayor Jennifer Roberts and Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-9th/NC), among many others.
The VFW National Convention is not open to the public; however, a video link to the general session will stream live at www.vfw.org beginning at 8 a.m. Eastern, July 25-27. Only registered and credentialed media from bona fide news organizations will be approved to cover convention activities. To pre-register, contact VFW Communications Manager Randi Law at VFW National Headquarters at email@example.com, or at (o) 816-968-1104. Onsite registration begins at 8 a.m., Saturday, July 23, at the VFW Communications Office inside Hall B of the Charlotte Convention Center, (o) 704-339-6212.
Contact: VFW Public Affairs Director Joe Davis, 202-608-8357, JDavis@vfw.org
VFW STATEMENT ON BATON ROUGE SHOOTING
OUR GOVERNMENT MUST PROTECT THOSE WHO MAINTAIN ORDER
July 19, 2016
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the United States again extends its heartfelt condolences and sympathy to the law enforcement community and the families of the victims of the recent attack that left three Baton Rouge police officers dead and three other officers wounded. Among the dead was Matthew Gerald, a Marine and former U.S. Army and Black Hawk crew chief with three tours in Iraq.
“America’s law enforcement officials—many of them veterans—ensure we’re able to safely exercise the freedoms that have been paid for by the many sacrifices of America’s service members. While those in law enforcement face risks, the increasingly dangerous confrontations of today are becoming too much. Our local, state and national governments must do all they can to better protect those who maintain order,” said VFW National Commander John A. Biedrzycki Jr.
VFW, SVA NOW ACCEPTING 2017 LEGISLATIVE FELLOWSHIP APPLICATIONS
OPPORTUNITY ALLOWS 10 STUDENT VETERANS TO ADDRESS ISSUES DIRECTLY WITH CONGRESS
July 14, 2016
WASHINGTON — The Veterans of Foreign Wars of the U.S. and Student Veterans of America are now accepting applications from student veterans interested in participating in the 2017 VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship program. Now in its third year, the fellowship offers 10 selected student veterans the unique opportunity to meet face-to-face with their members of Congress during the annual VFW National Legislative Conference, as well as provides additional opportunities for fellows to address veterans’ issues in their communities.
Student veterans interested in applying for the 2017 VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship must complete an application package that includes a proposal that addresses one of these four specific legislative issues:
- The success of veterans in the civilian job sector;
- The future of VA health care;
- The success of veterans in higher education; or
- The successful transition from military to civilian life.
The essay should discuss why the issue is important to the veterans’ community, and how the fellowship candidate plans to address the issue through community-based advocacy. Selected fellows will then be flown to Washington, D.C., to storm Capitol Hill alongside fellow veterans’ advocates as part of the 2017 VFW Legislative Conference, Feb. 26 to March 3.
“The VFW has been advocating in Washington on behalf of veterans, service members and their families for more than a century, and we want to share our experience with a new generation of veteran leaders through our SVA partnership and our annual Legislative Fellowship program,” said VFW National Commander John A. Biedrzycki Jr. “Last year’s fellows showed me that a new generation of leaders is ready to step up and take action. I can’t wait to see what the 2017 fellowship class brings to the Halls of Congress.”
“Student Veterans of America is proud to partner with the VFW to provide 10 students the opportunity to bring the issues facing veterans from their campus to the Halls of Congress,” said Jared Lyon, SVA president and CEO. “In this the third year of the program, we’re proud to add a more robust academic component to the curriculum, so that our student veterans are receiving academic recognition for their efforts. We thank the VFW for their continued support of SVA and our nation’s veterans, and are excited to work together to help transform yesterday’s warriors into today’s scholars, and tomorrow’s leaders.”
VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship opportunities are open to currently-enrolled student veterans at colleges and universities with active SVA chapters. Candidates must be VFW members, the criteria for which can be found here.
All applications must be submitted by close-of-business Oct. 21, 2016. Selected fellows will be notified before Thanksgiving, with a formal announcement of the fellowship class at the SVA National Conference in Anaheim, Calif., in January 2017. For full details about the fellowship and to apply, visit www.vfw.org/StudentFellowship.
Many past fellows earned academic credit for their experience, as well as found internships, accepted additional academic opportunities, and even landed jobs as a result of their fellowship experience.
The VFW-SVA Legislative Fellowship is another example of the strong collaboration between VFW and SVA that resulted from a memorandum of understanding signed by the two organizations at the SVA National Conference in January 2013.
About Student Veterans of America: SVA is a 501(c) (3) nonprofit coalition of 1,200-plus student veteran organizations representing 440,000 veterans in higher education. SVA’s mission is to provide military veterans with the resources, support and advocacy to ease veteran and active military students’ transition into higher education and leverage military experience to launch successful careers in high-demand fields. For more information, visit us at www.studentveterans.org and follow us on Twitter @studentvets.
VFW National Legislative Service
The location of our Washington, D.C. office allows us to monitor all legislation affecting veterans, alert VFW membership to key legislation under consideration and to actively lobby Congress and the administration on veterans’ issues.
Everything we do on Capitol Hill is with the VFW’s priority goals and veterans’ well-being in mind. With the strength of the nearly 1.9 million members of the VFW and its Auxiliaries, our voice on “the Hill” cannot be ignored!